26 December 2007

have I finally learned?

Today I was on my way to volunteer at church when I suddenly had the urge for a plain soy steamer. I thought twice about stopping to get one since it is the fast and it is a good time to practice NOT giving into every urge for excess...but I decided to go ahead and get one. It's been a while, I told myself. So I stopped at the drive-thru Starbucks and got into the middle of a long-ish line that was going to make me late to relieve the lady before me at church. Already I felt bad about it. Then I ordered and was told that it'd be $2.70 for a tall soy steamed milk, no flavor. That's almost $3 for 12 oz of plain soy milk! I would've questioned it, but the guy had already double checked the price. From the moment I ordered it until after drinking the last drop, I was bummed I actually paid for it. My 12 oz was more than enough to buy a whole box of soy milk at any store--what a profit margin! I don't know why it hit me today; it's not like it's the first time (!) I've been to Starbucks and that's what I usually order. I like the convenience and something about buying the drink makes it taste better...but man, what a waste of money! I won't say that I won't go there any more, but I will think twice and then once more before I hand over the cash!

24 December 2007

Christmas memories

Here I sit at my computer on the 24th of December. I just came back from exercising in our very empty little gym, and now my husband is taking his turn while our darling girl sleeps. Earlier we realized that we were almost completely out of food so we made a run to the local Sunflower Market, only to find that we had less than 30 minutes to do our shopping since they were closing early today...oh yeah, it's the 24th. I kind of felt guilty for bringing a loaded cart to the check out. The poor lady was obviously anxious to get out of there and get on with Christmas. On our drive home I imagined the people in the many churches we passed singing Christmas carols with candles in their hands...

I always liked Christmas eve. It was a quiet, gentle build up to bright Christmas day. Our usual custom, and my favorite, was to attend a church service in the evening. The church for this special night was not always our usual church; we'd often find a different one that was offering some kind of special Christmas eve service, particularly one with more music than talking (at least that's what I preferred). Once or twice (or more?) we did mix it up a bit. I remember one year we went to the foothills to look at a frozen Seven Falls (waterfall) lit up with green and red lights.

Once we got home from our outing, we'd make sure to turn down the house lights and plug in the tree lights. Then mom and dad would give us each one gift to open before bed...new matching pajamas. That was a fun idea because new pajamas are always nice and then we'd all match in the morning for pictures :) After that we were supposed to head to bed. When I was quite a bit younger, I loved to lay next to the lit tree after everyone else was in bed. Sometimes I'd think, sometimes I'd just rest, and sometimes I'd softly sing Christmas carols. Christmas was always an enchanting holiday for me.

In the morning my parents almost always managed to be awake before my brother and myself...although, I can remember a time or two when they had not yet hung the stockings. "Go back downstairs or something! Don't come up until we call you!" Usually though, we'd come up to very full stockings, hot egg nog or cider, a plate of fruit and something special like pastries. Mom would start the instrumental Christmas music, and we (younger brother and myself) would wait a few minutes for the older siblings to get up, namely our sister :) Did I mention that this was at 5 or 6 in the morning? I don't have to tell you, I'm sure, that if she didn't hop to it, we'd hop onto her!

The rest of the morning was stockings then the present exchange. Our tree was always loaded with presents. Lots and lots of presents! We'd each draw a name for one big present and then give a little something to everyone else (we all scaled back as we got older), but "Santa" and mom and dad would give us each several great presents. Eventually we'd all get dressed and then, in the earlier years, we'd go visit Grandpa and Grandma at their house. (Am I remembering this right?) One thing that sticks out to me is that after the explosion of presents, the rest of the day looked a bit boring and I always wished that the mall was open so that I could go redeem my gift certificates.

As for Santa, I cannot remember having any sort of belief in him. I think the reason is that my parents never really enforced the idea, although some presents were from "Santa" (in dad's distinctive hand-writing) and the stockings were supposed to be full when we got up. I can remember going to the malls and asking how would it be possible for Santa to be in different malls all over town and look different himself in each place. My parents assured me that these guys weren't the real Santa, just fill-ins. Later on in elementary school the kids were debating about some video one girl's parents caught of the real Santa Clause in their house. I knew it was a big piece of bologne...mostly. When I asked my parents to clarify, they finally made it clear to me that he in fact did not exist and that I didn't have to second-guess myself any longer. Whew!

The most important, and most fun, tradition, though, was being together as a family. Sitting together for a significant amount of time, reconnecting, laughing a lot, and generally enjoying one another. As we got older there were fewer (b/c more expensive!) presents, but the charm was still there because we were all together.

Then we hit a hard year where 3 of the 4 kids were out of the house and our parents divorced. It was a lot of change and a lot of emotion. That year we managed to have a Christmas that resembled what we had shared all those years, but it was not the same. From what I can remember that was the last one of its kind. Particularly due to the dramatic break in our family, the other traditions crumbled in my mind and I lost almost all interest in Christmas.
I am going to go off on a 'bunny trail' for a moment. What I've just realized as I've been writing is that in my mind I keep thinking "Christmas is about being together as a family." When the core family element wasn't there, Christmas lost all its meaning and purpose for me. I have felt: now that I have my own little family, I have a chance to begin anew and perhaps Christmas will again find a special place. This is an interesting self-discovery, if I do say so myself, because Christmas is NOT about family. It is not even about traditions. It is about the Nativity of Christ, the Son of God born to die in order to defeat death by death. Family and community of any kind is always very important, and it is particularly special to celebrate together. However, no matter who is (or is not) around, my heart should be focused on the anticipation of the Christ child. I should 'despise' anything else that distracts me from Him and the amazing act of Christ's incarnation.
All in all, the happy memories of childhood Christmases will always be with me, and I am grateful to even have had any! Each year I look forward to seeing my family, whether mostly all together or here and there, and I am happy for the special times my daughter will share (Lord willing) with her cousins during the happy festivities.

Now I am Orthodox, a new person emotionally and spiritually, and I see with a completely new set of eyes (now I have 3!--lol). I am learning a completely new approach to, well, everything! including holidays. I prepare for them in a different way, celebrate on a different day and in a different way. Family is still very important. Tradition is still very important. I will be pleased if there are similarities in what we do in the future to what I remember from my childhood. But the most important thing is that everything together points to God's work in the incarnation, the cross and resurrection and brings glory and praises of thanksgiving to God.

As for the Feast of the Nativity in particular, I am excited to establish family traditions that will help my daughter understand and experience the profundity, beauty and simplicity of the feast. If I try to see things through her eyes in this way, maybe I'll have a chance at grasping the true meaning of Christ's nativity.

23 December 2007

St Nikolai Velimirovic of Zicha

21 December 2007

Icons Will Save the World

Icons Will Save the World by Susan Cushman

Standing before the icon of Christ in the front of St. John Orthodox Church, I prepare to offer my confession at the Sacrament of Forgiveness. The Holy image of the One Who Forgives comes forth to meet me, as the father comes forth to welcome home the prodigal son in the familiar gospel passage (Luke 15:11–32). The love of Jesus pours forth from his prototype (the icon), sees the offering of my broken heart, and raises it to the heavenly realm.

This is a very beautiful, well-written article on icons. Please, please read it.

I'm sorry I haven't been original in a while. I will write something myself soon, I promise. But please read this article and tell me your thoughts/reactions.

Thanks to Fr Stephen for pointing to this article on his blog.

18 December 2007

St Nicholas, pray to God for us!

Commemorated on December 6 (Dec 19, old style)

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.

As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. St Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.

From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock.

In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.

There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man's poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity, St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.

The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there." So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. "What is your name, child?" he asked. God's chosen one replied, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."

After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.

Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.

In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.

St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop.

Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.

He worked many miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment.

Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9).

St Nicholas is also commemorated on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July 29 (his nativity).

(taken from the OCA site)

12 December 2007

the face of Santa

I had a laugh with this one over on the Orthodixie blog. Funny and true :)

07 December 2007

Interview with Father Jonah

A while back I heard a great interview on Our Life in Christ with Father Jonah, abbot of the Monastery of St. John of San Fransisco in which Father Jonah spoke about the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." I still find myself contemplating all that he said. So much was made (more) clear to me.

One thing I specifically found enlightening was when he clarified that in this prayer we are asking more than for clemency--we are asking for God to re-affirm his activity and presence in the world and in me, a sinner. Another way to say it is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, anoint me, a sinner, with your Presence." Here we humbly call upon Christ's self-offering of love.

Also, one of the most important things to realize, he mentioned, is that the purest prayer is free of images, concepts, sounds, emotions...anything that comes from our imagination. "Orthodoxy is stone-cold sober." He said that our emotions actually are not the same thing as our heart. Deep in our heart is the perception of God and it is here where noetic prayer dwells. Our emotions, on the other hand, are products of our rational consciousness which is where data processing and perception of our senses occurs.

But since we often equate our emotions with our heart, and since most of us are tainted with delusional ego-centrism, we tend to mistake thoughts, images and emotions for the will of God. This really struck me...it explains why the emotional praise songs, pentecostal-type gatherings, 'God literally spoke to me' bits feel more and more unreal or just off to me. The next thing he said I have quoted before: "Thoughts are a self-constructed reality that we function within; we mistake our thoughts for reality." This goes even deeper and into my every day life. "Return to the humility of God." In other words, return to humility. A humble heart can see things for what they are, can love purely, and can pray without an agenda.

This review is sorely lacking the depth and breadth of all Father Jonah offered in the interview. You can listen to it in the archives at ourlifeinchrist.com. Look for April 2007, Father Jonah, and The Jesus Prayer and the Healing of the Human Person.

04 December 2007

Some call him a dreamer...

Actually lots of people do, from what I've read. A lot of those same people like him but consider his chances low, and therefore he is dreaming if he thinks he has a chance. Honestly, this perspective is very troubling to me. If people don't vote for who they like and instead vote for who they think will win (aka, those with the money to sway media)...what kind of democracy are we living in (Patriot Act aside)? We have some even darker days ahead in this nation if this is how we continue to vote.

Please watch some of Kucinich's responses at the democratic debate on 11/15/07. It gives a slight overview of his stance on different issues.